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Injection molding: Sustainability, profitability two sides of same coin

 



PCI's Tom Duffey says molders who do well at marketing their efforts at sustainability may find that new customers come calling.
 

Tom Duffey, president and co-founder of Plastic Components Inc. (PCI), is hardly a newcomer to the plastics processing industry. But even he admits that he was surprised at the breadth and depth of suggestions his peers shared with him as he prepared for a presentation on ways processors can incorporate sustainable technology into their facilities.

Duffey spoke in late September at the 'Sustainability in the plastics industry' conference hosted by MPW and its sister publication, Injection Molding Magazine. He and two partners founded PCI in 1989, and the firm has grown from just two to now 42 molding machines. In addition, he is president of Mid-America Plastics Partners (MAPP), a processors' association. “I'm not an expert on sustainability,” admitted Duffey, so while preparing his presentation he turned to his fellow MAPP members for their thoughts on the topic. Their responses ran the gamut, with almost all stating they understood the need for sustainable manufacturing as a morally correct way to prevent further deterioration of our environment, but some feeling too pinched on the business side to make much progress on 'green' issues.

For instance, one unnamed automotive parts processors told Duffey, “On the one hand, customers are trying to beat us into submission (with lower prices for our parts). On the other hand, they're trying to raise our sustainability consciousness.” Others noted that there are too many challenges in the current market to devote time and money to sustainability, with Duffey quoting one: “We're in survival mode, not 'green' mode.”

But, he added, many have recognized that sustainability and good business practices often go hand-in-hand. One MAPP member, York Imperial Plastics (York, PA), said it has found a local business willing to take its old hydraulic oil, which it filters and sells as heating oil. Bob Holbrook, president at the molder, says the program is in its infancy and likely will save the molder $500 this year. “It's not much but a savings nonetheless,” he wrote MPW. Another, custom molder, Nicolet Plastics (Nicolet, WI), claims it saved more than 140,000 lbs of plastics last year by improving its reclaim/regrind operations. Others pointed to investments in improved HVAC (heating/ventilation/air conditioning) units as money well spent. “Sustainability and profitability need not be mutually exclusive,” noted Duffey. His own company has not yet measured the benefits of its own efforts, which include reuse of processing water to help cool or heat the plant, closed-loop molding with direct integration of sprue grinding/reuse, and motion-sensor office lighting to automatically turn off lights when rooms are empty. He says he is considering adding 'sustainability' to the duties of some of the processor's younger managers, openly acknowledging that the under-35 set was brought up more conscious of man's affects on the environment than his own baby boomer generation.

One of the most successful efforts Duffey cited was at Dorel Juvenile Group (Foxboro, MA), a manufacturer of child strollers, children's car seats and other child protective gear. The firm, with its own captive processing, took photos of its waste as it was trucked away and then unceremoniously dumped in a nearby landfill. The pictures were posted in the company's facility, with employees asked to help reduce the company's waste. According to Dorel, it reduced its truckloads of landfilled waste from 204 annually to just one/month. “They've found sources who wanted that scrap, and some were willing to pay for it,” noted Duffey, so that the manufacturer's bottom line also received some support.

Track waste just as you would machine utilization or input costs, recommended Duffey, and you'll be able to do right by your company and your environment.

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